Dawn Ng

22 november 2013 / editor’s picks / words asih jenie

01 “Walter,” guerrilla installation photograph series; 02 “I Fly Like Paper Get High Like Planes,” paper planes installation; 03 “Wonderland,” drain installation; 04 “Everything you ever need is right here,” photo exhibition; 05-06 "Class Act" and "No Point Losing These" from her latest solo exhibition Windowshop, to be held 11 January to 9 February 2014 at Chan Hampe Galleries; 07 Dawn Ng

 

Friday Q&A: Dawn Ng

 

Visual artist Dawn Ng brings out the inner child in her works across various mediums.

“I have a confession to make,” said Dawn Ng as she took the stage at the ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu gala premiere last August. “I am not really a photographer.” The event was an art award honoring Singaporean photographers and Ng was one of the nominees. Her statement wasn’t entirely in jest – with a background in studio art and journalism at Georgetown University and UCL Slade School of Fine Art, Ng’s work extends far beyond photography, to collage, illustration, lighting, stop motion video and installations in New York, Paris and Singapore. Her best known artwork is a gigantic inflatable white rabbit named “Walter,” who made delightful cameo appearances in historic places across the island. Later, the photographs of the experience and giant bunny itself were acquired as Singapore Art Museum’s collection. It has become the museums unofficial mascot.

In Singapore, Ng is represented by Chan Hampe Galleries, which will host her Solo Exhibition Windowshop from 11 January 2014 to 9 February 2014.  A cabinet of curiosities like no others, Windowshop will showcases thousands of objects hand-picked from local junk stores, homes, and shops form a peculiar collection of tailor-made and titled keepsakes, with each title setting the stage for the objects at hand.

 

How did you become a visual artist? Was it something you always wanted to be?

No, actually, I started out in advertising and design; it was my first job when I was living in New York. I love the idea of telling stories and over the time I wasn’t really interested in telling the stories of brands and products but I’d like to tell the stories that I’m interested in. A lot of them are started from [a] conceptual basis. There’s always a story I want to tell about Singapore or identity or nostalgia and after that is about finding the right medium or the most powerful way to tell that story.

Tell us the story of your most famous project, “Walter.”

“Walter” came from the fact that there’s a lot of landscape in Singapore that’s really ordinary, so much so that it has become invisible and people overlook it. “Walter” is an object, an element so strange and so surreal; it created a very child-like, fantastical universe. So it kind of retrained people’s eyes to look at a space that otherwise they would just ignore and walk past. It was part a photo-documentary part social experiment to see how people would react when “Walter” was placed on those places. This project is very dear to my heart. Singapore, as a country, visually and culturally, [is] so in love with the new, we suffer from amnesia where things are changing so rapidly you don’t realize what’s gone, what has been removed that was part of your childhood. But there are a lot of things that you identify yourself with and you really peg yourself to these cultural icons, buildings and spaces. Take for example one of the places I chose to photograph “Walter” – the sand playground. There were a lot of them when I was growing up, but now there are only six left.  I think there’s urgency in my work about that although done in a very childlike and playful way.

And it was a guerilla project?

Yes! It’s completely illegal. I should’ve have obtained permits for the some of the shoots. But maybe because he looked so innocent he didn’t set off their alarm. Or maybe people just assume that it was part of a Save a Rabbit campaign or something.

Why a rabbit?

The reason why I chose a rabbit is because growing up, children are quite keen on having a either hamster or a white rabbit, and there’s also that white rabbit sweet, a candy wrapped in thin paper film you can ingest, those are the things that I pulled from my childhood. And I love to borrow the idea from Alice in the Wonderland something’s that’s a bit larger than life, a bit disproportionate and kind of eschews your perception.

Would you say that you aim to bring out the inner child inside everyone?

Yes. The reason why children are always enthralled and delighted and happy is that because a lot of things are their first times. And there’s always the magic and wonder of the first time. I think what I’m trying to do with my work is how to engineer that first time again for people. How do you retrain people’s eyes? How do you wipe out the cynicism? That’s a capacity we’ve taken for granted, to look at something in the everyday and the ordinary and see that it is magical and it is beautiful.  

You’ve spent many years abroad. What do you bring home from overseas?

My years in New York and Paris are quite foundational in my work. They kind of retrained the way I look at things in Singapore. To look at them like I was part a stranger, like I was discovering something for the first time, and not to take things for granted. When I was in Paris for two years, I was struck on how even the worst café was very celebrated and much protected because it was an icon, something that people want to remember. People there don’t really want change anything whereas we’re the complete opposite. We’re all about progress and the future.

Any favorite medium to work with?

Anything that’s larger than life. I love working with something that’s like five times my size. I think there’s something powerful about big scale.

Will we see “Walter” again?

When I come down with a project, it’s my obsession, my baby and my love during the time that I was working on it but when it’s done it’s done. But actually Singapore Art Museum acquired “Walter” so now and again they might put him out in their lawn.

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